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DA Sayers: Unregulated skill game machines confiscated across Clearfield County

DuBOIS — A total of 60 skill game machines, plus redemption centers, in eight establishments across Clearfield County were confiscated by law enforcement officers Tuesday, according to District Attorney Ryan Sayers.

“Liquor Control Enforcement (LCE) and state police approached me last year in regards to these machines,” said Sayers. “Contrary to the popular belief and one of the manufacturers, these machines are gambling machines and are illegal under the case law and statute as it stands in Pennsylvania. They are not regulated. They are not taxed.

“What people don’t realize is that with Keno machines, they are highly regulated and they have to pay out at least 85 percent, most payout 89 to 91 percent of the proceeds from their slot machines, while these (illegal skill game) machines that are in our county and communities are only paying out maybe 60 percent,” said Sayers. “Obviously, they are taking advantage of people in our community. Not only are they illegal, they are taking advantage of people as well.”

Sayers said machines and cash were taken from the following establishments: Snappy’s in both Clearfield and DuBois; the Penfield Minit Mart; The After Dark, Clearfield; Redneck Reno, DuBois; Choice Cigarettes, DuBois; BP gas station, Clearfield, by Interstate 80; and N&T Convenience Store, Clearfield.

“These are the ones the LCE and state police identified for this operation based on the quantity of machines and the type of businesses that have them. Some of those being liquor establishments where liquor enforcement was involved and some of the establishments did not have liquor licenses and those were handled directly by the state police,” he said. “It’s not practical at this time to go roundup what would be over 1,000 machines in the county.”

The amount of cash confiscated in what the LCE is calling, “Operation Wooden Nickel,” has not yet been determined, said Sayers, because the machines and redemption centers have not been opened yet.

No charges have been filed at this time.

“Potentially charges will come in the future,” said Sayers. “There is still additional investigation that needs to be done, specifically in regards to accessing the machines and getting quantities, printouts, etc.”

Sayers said there is always the potential to confiscate more machines.

During the operation, there were no incidents according to what state police and liquor enforcement officials told Sayers.

“Overall, most establishments were cooperative,” said Sayers. “Some of the employees of some of the establishments, my understanding is they were relieved because some of these machines, depending on the time of day, bring in some unsavory individuals.”

With literally hundreds of these machines popping up everywhere across Pennsylvania, Sayers said, “Some of the manufacturers contend, there are some in Common Pleas Court in Beaver County, though it’s not binding across the state, and they hang their hat on that decision and then they try to tell these establishments that these machines are legal. Under the current state law, they are not.”

Sayers said there have been other similar operations like this one in western Pennsylvania.

“The easy way to fix this would be for the legislature and the governor to amend the statute and properly regulate and pass these machines,” said Sayers. “But right now these machines are under the table cash operations, not regulated, which means the public is not protected from the potential greed of these establishments and these manufacturers. I have a duty to address mine when I believe the community is in potential harm because of these operations.”

Punxsutawney families embrace 'Reading Under the Lights'

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area Elementary School celebrated “Reading Under the Lights” on Tuesday evening, filling the football field with district families enjoying a night of reading together.

Though the Van Dyke dance girls were unable to make it since the event had to be rescheduled to the rain date, there was still plenty of fun for the children. The school had a craft stand set up for students and a child safety kit stand with School Resource Officer Pat Renwick.

The craft this year, making a maraca, followed the theme of the featured book “Giraffes Can’t Dance” by Giles Andreae. This book tells the story of Gerald the Giraffe, who wants to dance but is teased by the other animals, until he learns that he can dance to any sound. Children could choose between three different fillers to make different sounds with their maraca.

Making the maracas was a craft that also allowed the children to create their own music while enjoying the book. The sound of the maraca was used to tell them when to turn the page of the book during the reading.

“The PTO helped us with our snack, we had the local library come and get everybody involved that way. We try to invite anybody that wants to be a part of it,” said Abby Steffey, the Title I department chair.

The school held the event for kindergarten through third grade this year, and invited all the local pre-schools to attend. Typically, the event covers kindergarten through sixth grade, but this year, the school is planning a separate literacy event for fourth through sixth graders.

“For four to six, we’re doing a paint and pizza, like a paint and sip but with pizza. So, that’s going to be the older kids event. We figured this book was a little younger. It’s hard to find a book that ties pre-K to sixth,” Steffey said. “This year we’re trying something new.”

The fourth-through-sixth grade literacy event will have a chapter book tied in that will be reflected in the painting the children make.

All the children attending were sent home with a bag that had “Giraffes Can’t Dance,” and they all got to choose a second book off the book table. Everything for the event — the books, the craft, and kits — were funded by the Title I program, except for the snacks that the PTO takes care of.

“Which we greatly appreciate from them. They always help provide our snack,” Steffey said of the PTO.

Children stayed lined up at the craft and safety kit tables long after the reading of the book was finished, enjoying their time outside together for the event.

Jefferson County Jail, Center for Community Resources hope to make inmate transition easier upon release

BROOKVILLE — The Jefferson County Jail is finalizing details with the Center for Community Resources to bring “Real Colors” to the inmates of the jail.

CCR is a state-wide organization created to provide a single point of contact to communities for the web of services that are available. The organization helps in finding the correct assistance for each individual situation and provides support services to individuals and families seeking information, referral and service coordinations.

The Real Colors program at Jefferson County Jail will have a goal of making the transition from the jail back into the community easier for inmates.

Deputy Warden Brandon Schott attended the jail board meeting Tuesday morning on behalf of the jail to share this development with the board.

He was approached by Kristine Shaffer of CCR, who asked about bringing the program to the jail. Shaffer previously worked for Jefferson County Probation, and has knowledge of the county system.

“She saw in the paper we were looking to start some new programs, and she approached me about getting ‘Real Colors’ started in there. Basically, they come and assess the inmate, and then they connect them to the services that best suit them in the community, so they kind of get the ball rolling before they ever leave us, and get them hooked up to whoever would best suit them once they get out,” Schott said.

CCR will do the assessment of the inmates, and will figure out what’s best for the inmates. Since they have all the contacts it “makes it go a lot more smoothly,” so the jail doesn’t have to “reach out to all these places,” according to Schott.

“That’s the goal, to help them make those connections before they get released so they can transition to the outside and maybe have some semblance of recovery going already,” Schott said.

The jail and Shaffer are discussing what the jail can do and everything that needs done to make this program a reality at the jail. He is currently waiting on a call back from Shaffer to finalize the program for the inmates.

Narcotics Anonymous

Schott also said he is working on starting a Narcotics Anonymous group at the jail. He had a meeting with them a couple of weeks ago, and already has a couple of volunteers lined up. The volunteers have to get institutional training before they can come work inside the jail, so they are working on that now.

“So, we’ll start having regular Narcotics Anonymous meetings once we can get that ball rolling too,” Schott said.

The jail now has COVID-19 screening at the receptionist desk, and anyone coming into the jail from outside programs has to complete the screening first before being allowed past the front lobby.

Schott also said the Department of Corrections has started letting the jail send employees for training. Previously, only state employees were permitted to go to the training. When employees are moved to full-time positions they have to complete this training.

“We just send one at a time, so they go for about two and a half weeks, then the next class starts within a week or two. We’ve just been trying to cycle them in as they allow us. That could change at any minute, but for now we’re trying to get caught up,” Schott said.

Inmate transportations

Sheriff Deputy Sam Bartley gave an update on the prison transports, saying the transports have been getting better.

“As of right now, everybody who’s been sentenced to state prison is scheduled right now, so we are up to date right now,” Bartley said.

Punxsutawney school resource officer helps promote child safety

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Punxsutawney School Resource Officer Pat Renwick offered child safety kits Tuesday evening during the district’s “Reading Under the Lights” event, which was a first for him but something he said is beneficial to the whole community.

When planning for Reading Under the Lights, the school approached Renwick about the possibility of offering the child safety kits through the police department. Renwick talked it over with police Chief Matt Conrad, and was directed that it was OK, but the school would have to provide the kits.

Renwick and Conrad found appropriate safety kits online, and forwarded them to the school to purchase for the event.

The kits include a fingerprinting kit, a form to include a description of the child, a DNA swab kit, and a baggie for including a piece of your child’s hair. It is also recommended to include an up-to-date photo. Renwick was assisting children with the fingerprint aspect of the kits.

“Officer Renwick offered, he is just volunteering his time here for us, and he’s doing the child safety kits,” said Abby Steffey, the Title I department chair during the event.

This is the first time Renwick has ever done something like this, but said “the sky is the limit with this.” The department never thought of doing something like this before the school approached them.

“There’s a baggie inside the kit that you can put a hair sample in, there’s DNA swabs in there that they’ll seal, then they’ll just keep that at their home. It’s a very nice kit.,” Renwick said. “God forbid something would happen.”

If a child would ever go missing, parents can bring this kit to the police, and it will immediately have the information the police would need.

“If your kid were to get lost or abducted or something, then that info helps them (police),” Steffey said. “That’s just for the parents to have on file, it doesn’t go anywhere, but if they were to need it they would have that info.”

Being the SRO, many of the students were already familiar with Renwick which made the process easier. Many children were telling their parents they give officer Renwick high-fives in the morning, as he is often out patrolling during drop-off time at the elementary school.

“The ones I didn’t have time to do tonight, we’re just going to do at the school,” Renwick said. “They’re going to give me a box that I can keep in my office. A lot of the parents already took them, so they’ll just bring them down to my office.”

He will also be offering the same kits to the older children during the fourth-through-sixth grade paint and pizza event planned for November.